Are you listening?

August 13, 2008

One of my pet peeves is people who do not listen. Sadly, I am finding that this is true of most people. And I just don’t understand it. If you ask someone a question, don’t you want to hear the answer? If you ask someone what you can do to help them and they tell you, why don’t you listen and actually do the thing you have agreed to do?

In my job as Executive Director of a non-profit, I deal with many people on any given day. Some are our customers and some are the volunteers who help keep our organization running.  What frustrates, and at times infuriates me, are those people who do not listen. Time and time again folks ask me a question or sit in a meeting where a topic is discussed ad naseum only to leave the meeting and behave as if it never happened or as if they never heard a word that was said. I find myself repeating myself and the very simple instructions I give people over and over again. And then folks wonder why I am crabbing, upset or just downright bitchy.

I know I am not alone in my feelings nor am I the only person who isn’t heard. And by the way, being heard isn’t the same thing as being listened to. Tune into any one of the numerous psuedo news shows where talking heads are the norm and you will hear those talking heads spewing rhetoric that has nothing, or at least very little, to do with the questions posed to them. And when have you seen a politician actually answer a question that is posed to him?

Children don’t listen to their parents. Spouses don’t listen to each other. Doctors don’t listen to their patients and we all know damn well that insurance companies don’t listen to anyone. And our own government is the worst of all. Once a person gets elected to office, be it local or national, the ability to listen is simply lost. And so our country is leaderless and lacks direction. But who notices? We are all too busy watching our televisions, listening to our ipods or playing with our computers and video games. Attention America – We have an epidemic in this country! It is self-absorption, narcissism, egocentrism and plain old selfishness. People are so engrossed in themselves that they don’t take the time to listen or connect to anyone. I for one am tired of it and am looking for a way to change. Any suggestions?


  1. A true friend will listen to you in the way you want to be heard. So spend the rest of your life finding those who will not only listen but will hear.

    The rest? That’s why God invented the Ipod!

  2. Listening, and, more so, hearing, is an art that can be developed. Too many people are distracted by their own thoughts and agendae to really hear what someone else is trying to say. Developing the art of hearing takes practice, and commitment on the part of the listener. I do try, especially when I care.

  3. I’m sorry, can you repeat that, I wasn’t paying attention.

  4. It’s easy to forget that we enjoy a quality of life and wealth of choice that until very recently would have been unimaginable by all but the richest in society. Both our national complacency and tendency to bury our heads in the sand make no sense at all until you consider the inherent difficulty in rising to anger or engaging outside of ourselves when sitting in an air-conditioned home less than 10 feet from a fully stocked refrigerator, a flat screen TV that gets hundreds of channels, a computer with access to nearly the entirety of recorded worldwide information, stacks of DVDs, CDs, video games, books, and magazines, and the expendable income, credit, and time to nearly immediately satisfy our every whim and desire.

    Unfortunately this mindless consumption often comes at the expense of independent thought, external awareness, meaningful national dialogue, and the catastrophic dilution of and wholesale auctioning off of our culture (and thus our national identity). This selfish apathy extends further than our relationship with government and commerce as well.

    As our interpersonal relationships are increasingly intangible and, thanks to technology, often anonymous, we find it harder and harder to truly exchange ideas. Conversation has come to mean waiting for your next opportunity to speak, and even the wait is becoming obsolete. To make matters worse, our attention spans have been so reduced by immediate gratification that many don’t take the time to process information as it comes in. Words go in one ear and directly out the other, rendering anything but the most basic and direct of statements effectively unsaid.

    It’s for these reasons that in my face-to-face communication with others I’ve found it most helpful to do away with anything that might (even remotely) be considered vague or open to interpretation. I try to make myself as clear as possible in as direct and honest a fashion as I can. I try to make my intentions, expectations, actions, and reactions as apparent as possible up front. More than anything, I value honesty in communication, as I find it much more helpful to face uncomfortable situations and possible confrontation calmly and honestly than through subversion or avoidance. I find that people tend to stoop only as low as I do in direct dealings, and that if nothing else the free exchange of feelings and perspective can afford us all a much better understanding of where we stand in relation to each other.

    If that doesn’t work, I can always just get something from the fridge and bunker down in front of the TV, surfing the web from my laptop, listening to music on my iPod.

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